Directed by: Jeff Baena
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick
The zombie genre should have died out long ago but thanks to its low cost appeal, filmmakers on a budget are determined to flog it to (un)death. It's easy to see why those of limited budget, and even more limited imagination, are drawn to the genre. Godard famously said all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun; all you need to make a zombie movie is a bunch of cheap extras and some pale skin makeup. Why Hollywood, with its almost limitless funds, insists on a piece of this action is hard to figure out, but recently the major studios have jumped on the shambling bandwagon with the much derided adaptation of Max Brooks' World War Z, the young adult targeted rom-zom-com Warm Bodies, and now Life After Beth, a movie that was likely greenlit on its title alone.
It's all too easy to imagine writer-director Jeff Baena, whose only previous credit is the script for David O Russell's 2004 comic misfire I Heart Huckabees, came up with his movie's title in a lightbulb moment, only to then discover how difficult it was to construct an original and worthwhile script around it. The title pun hints at a much broader film than the one Baena gives us, which aims more for The Graduate in its comic tone than a balls to the wall zomfest like Shaun of the Dead.
Beth (Plaza), a young girl whose age is never quite determined, dies from a fatal snakebite, leaving behind her distraught boyfriend Zach (DeHaan), who bonds with her father (Reilly). A couple of days after the funeral, Zach discovers Beth has returned from the grave and is being hidden in the family home by her parents. You would expect much hilarity to ensue, but the events that follow are remarkably dull and void of comic appeal. DeHaan has proven himself a more than capable young actor, but he's miscast here and just looks uncomfortable sharing scenes with the movie's various comic performers, none of whom are afforded the chance to play to their strengths. Plaza acts as though she's in an entirely different movie to everyone else, hamming it up while her costars solemnly mope around.
If you've seen any of the hundred or so zombie comedies that have emerged over the past decade, mostly in a straight to DVD or VOD capacity, then the only surprise in Life After Beth is how seriously it takes itself. This movie is yet more proof that the zom-com is a genre that needs a headshot to put it out of its misery.
By Eric Hillis